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Discovering a Good Mystery Series, Historical and Foreign Locales – Updated 2023

Cindy Burnett
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The Last Party by Clare Mackintosh

This new series by Clare Mackintosh is set in Wales.

My Page Turners' mystery series columns (see the latest here and here) are some of my most-read articles (and among the most-read articles on The Buzz Magazines' website last year) so I am updating the previous ones by removing a few series and adding some new ones that I have discovered since I last wrote about this topic. Mystery series appeal to readers because there are multiple books containing the same characters and deciding what to read next is so easy. Following the progression of the same individuals over time makes the reader feel like these individuals have almost become friends. 

This week, I am updating my list of outstanding mysteries series set outside the U.S. or with a historical setting. Series that integrate cultural and regional aspects and details especially appeal to me because I feel like I have been transported to another place without ever leaving my home. Historical mysteries provide a similar experience by focusing on an important period or person in history while including an intriguing puzzle that must be solved.

Standout mystery series set outside the U.S.: 

  1. The Baby Ganesh series by Vaseem Khan – Vaseem Khan’s delightful and unique series is set in Mumbai and stars retired Inspector Ashwin Chopra and a baby elephant named Ganesh. Khan immerses the reader in modern Mumbai culture and attitudes while creating clever and intriguing mysteries.  Highlight – Baby Ganesh and the focus on modern Indian culture.  First book – The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra.
  2. The Bruno, Chief of Police series by Martin Walker – Bruno is the chief of police in a small fictional town in the Perigord region of France. Walker’s clever murder mysteries paired with a focus on the region’s food, people and culture make this series one of the best. Highlight – the descriptions of the region and its culture. First book – Bruno, Chief of Police.
  3. The Corman Reilly series by Dervla McTiernan – Set in Galway, Ireland, McTiernan’s series is part police procedural and part thriller and tackles present-day issues such as drug addiction and suicide. Reilly, new to Galway, must prove himself to his fellow detectives while solving crimes that at times seem to intersect too closely with his personal life. Highlight – the setting and the mysteries themselves. First book – The Ruin.
  4. The Detective Kubu series by Michael Stanley – Writing duo Michael Stanley’s series set in Botswana chronicles Detective David Bengu’s exploits as he tackles the crimes that arise under his jurisdiction. Nicknamed “Kubu,” which means hippopotamus in Setswana, Bengu seeks to eliminate those individuals threatening Botswana’s stability, mainly diamond smugglers and poachers. Highlight – the descriptions of Botswana and Bengu himself. First book – The Carrion Death.
  5. The Commissaire Dupin series by Jean-Luc Bannalec - Set in the Breton region of France, this series stars Commissaire Georges Dupin, an initially unwilling transplant to the Breton region. Unusual and unorthodox, Dupin tackles the cases that come his way as he grows to appreciate the distinctly unique Breton culture and topography. Highlight – the descriptions of Brittany and its residents and cuisine.  First book – Death in Brittany.
  6. The Aaron Falk series by Jane Harper – Federal investigator Aaron Falk returns home to Kiewarra, Australia for the funeral of a childhood friend and is soon to drawn into the friend’s mysterious death. Harper’s pacing and storytelling are superb, and readers will feel like they are in the outback as Falk’s tale unfolds. The third book in the series is out at the end of January. Highlight – the setting and clever mysteries. First book – The Dry.
  7. The Detective Kaga series by Keigo Higashino – Set in Tokyo, this series stars Police Detective Kyoichiro Kaga. In the first installment, bestselling novelist Kunihiko Hidaka is found brutally murdered in his home on the night before he's planning to leave Japan and relocate to Vancouver. With little to go on, Kaga must uncover what happened and why. Highlight – the focus on Japanese culture and twisty mysteries. First book – Malice.
  8. The Kate Marshall series by Robert Brynzda - Kate Marshall was a promising young police detective when she caught the notorious Nine Elms serial killer but the events that followed caused everything to go sideways for her. Fifteen years later, a copycat killer has taken up the Nine Elms mantle, and enlisting her brilliant research assistant, Tristan Harper, Kate draws on her prodigious and long-neglected skills as an investigator to catch a new monster. Highlight – The U.K. setting and Kate’s character. First book – Nine Elms.
  9. The Ruth Galloway series by Elly Griffiths – Forensic archaeologist Dr. Ruth Galloway is in her late 30s and lives happily alone with her two cats in a bleak, remote area near Norfolk, England. But her routine days of digging up bones and other ancient objects are harshly upended when a child’s bones are found on a desolate beach and she is recruited by Detective Chief Inspector Nelson to help solve the crime and subsequently many others. The 15th and final book in the series comes out this spring. Highlight – Ruth’s occupation and the focus on archaeology. First book – The Crossing Places.
  10. The DC Morgan series by Clare Mackintosh - In this new series (the first book came out in fall 2022), Mackintosh crafts a mystery set on the border between Wales and England. On the morning after a New Year's Eve party, floating on the lake is the body of a dead man, a once famous opera singer, Rhys Lloyd. Local DC Ffion Morgan investigates for the North Wales Police to determine who wanted Rhys dead, paired with DC Leo Brady of Cheshire Major Crimes from the English side; the two make a great crime-solving duo. Highlight – The Welsh setting. First book – The Last Party.

My favorite mystery series with a historical setting:

  1. The Gilded Newport series by Alyssa Maxwell – The various Newport “cottages” built in the late 1890’s occupy center stage in Alyssa Maxwell’s series starring the fictional Emma Cross, second cousin to millionaire Cornelius Vanderbilt. Maxwell’s meticulous research shines through in each installment as she details a particular house and its inhabitants while centering a mystery around the house at issue.  Highlight – The detailed descriptions of each cottage and its status today. First book – Murder at the Breakers.
  2. The Mycroft Holmes and Sherlock series by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Anna Winterhouse – NBA superstar Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is a diehard Sherlock Holmes fan and pens stories about Sherlock and his brother when they were younger (Sherlock is in his late teens). The mysteries are clever, and Abdul-Jabbar stays faithful to Arthur Conan Doyle’s characters and mysteries. Highlight – a young Sherlock. First book – Mycroft Holmes.
  3. The Maggie Hope series by Susan Elia MacNeal – Highly educated, American Maggie arrives in London to dispense with a house she inherited just as the Blitz begins. Eager to help the Allies defeat Hitler, she applies for a job and is hired as the newest secretary to Winston Churchill, a job for which she is immensely overqualified. Eventually she becomes a spy for the British, and her exploits take her all over World War II-era Europe. Highlight – the detailed descriptions of war-torn London. First book – Mr. Churchill’s Secretary.
  4. The Veronica Speedwell series by Deanna Raybourn – Lepidopterist Speedwell and her sidekick Stoker solve creative and unusual mysteries in 1880s London. Intelligent, highly adventurous, and independent, Speedwell challenges the conventions of the Victorian era, and her curiosity and charm make her a unique and highly likeable heroine. Highlight – Speedwell herself and the witty banter between Speedwell and Stoker. First book – A Curious Beginning.
  5. The High Society Lady Detective series by Sara Rosett – Houstonian Rosett’s series takes place in 1920s high society England and stars destitute aristocrat Olive Belgrave who stumbles into crime solving when a murder occurs at a house party at which she is attending. Word of her success travels, and Olive finds herself drawn into numerous mysteries and hijinx. Highlight – The expertly detailed 1920s England.  First book – Murder at Archly Manor.
  6. The Maisie Dobbs series by Jacqueline Winspear – After serving as a nurse in World War I, Maisie Dobbs decides to become a private investigator in London. Patient and intelligent, Maisie uses her skills and intuition to solve the crimes and mysteries that come her way. Highlight – Maisie Dobbs herself. First book – Maisie Dobbs.
  7. The Billy Boyle series by James Benn – Billy Boyle makes detective in his South Boston neighborhood days before Pearl Harbor, and with family connections (his uncle is General Dwight D. Eisenhower), Boyle is hired as Eisenhower’s division detective to halt a planned sabotage of an upcoming invasion of Norway. Smartly written, the series follows Billy as he learns to adjust to life as a military officer while feeling continually challenged with new cases. Highlight – the World War II stories. First book – Billy Boyle.
  8. The Lady Georgie series by Rhys Bowen - Lady Georgie, full name Lady Victoria Georgiana Charlotte Eugenie, is the cousin of King George V of England and 35th in line for the throne. However, as the series opens, she is penniless and has to find a way to make a living in London in 1932. The Queen asks her to spy on someone, and Georgie is unwittingly drawn into a murder. She is one of the most entertaining protagonists in the mystery genre. Highlight – Lady Georgie herself. First book – Her Royal Spyness.
  9. The Jane Wunderly series by Erica Ruth Neubauer - Jane Wunderly is accompanied by her Aunt Millie to Egypt in 1926, looking forward to her holiday and seeing the pyramids as had been her dream. She is recently widowed and determined to never marry again, but Aunt Millie is equally determined to see that she does. But when Jane finds a body in one of the guest rooms, she is shocked. And when she is declared a suspect by the local police, Jane realizes that she has to find the killer to clear her name. Highlight – the time period and settings. First book – Murder at the Mena House.

Let me hear about your favorites!

For more book recommendations and bookish thoughts, see Cindy’s monthly Buzz Reads column, her award-winning Thoughts from a Page Podcast or follow @ThoughtsFromaPage on Instagram. Find upcoming Conversations from a Page events here.

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